a man in a 19th century orange coat leans back to get a drink poured over his head
Courtesy Music Box Films

Turns out “fake news” was a problem long before a former reality television star rose to political power. In a different kind of rise (but with just as much drama along the way), Lucien (Benjamin Voisin), an aspiring poet, gets tangled in a web of lies, sex, and greed that is the 19th-century Paris journalism industry. This is a world where critics can be paid to trash a good book, where audiences can be paid to applaud (or boo), and where money—not truth—conquers all. Lucien has real talent, but he sees a shortcut to success and takes it, especially after a wealthy, married lover whisks him away from his provincial life to the city, then abandons him when he fails to fit in with the who’s who of Parisian society. We’re warned early on that this is a tragic, cautionary tale, and those familiar with Honoré de Balzac’s original work will know that things won’t end well for Lucien. But the journey is so much fun! Xavier Giannoli’s film is hilarious and always moving with vivid colors and rapid-fire narration that in another movie might feel heavy-handed but here is a guiding force that gives a fascinating quasi-history lesson. At times, the movie can be overwhelming; there are several plotlines and it’s tough to follow them all. But ultimately, it’s a fun ride, and Lost Illusions delivers as a unique and still-relevant period piece. In French with English subtitles. 149 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center